Wizards of the Coast have been gracious enough to lift my NDA about the D&D Next playtest so that I could discuss my feelings about it with my readers in advance of the open playtest. My group and I have been play testing the game and have received two versions of it in that time. The first version we received varied greatly from the version that I had played at the D&D Summit in December. That would make three different progressions of the game and the open playtest will vary further still from previous material. The system is obviously in flux and the designers are getting a lot of feedback and adjusting the rules to reflect this. Check out my interview with Mike Mearls for more about what may be coming up mechanics wise. Now let’s break down the mechanics and material that I have seen up to this point.
In my first playtest packet titled “Playtest 1.0” I received the Player Packet, DM Packet, Monster Packet, and The Caves of Chaos. I printed it out and set about looking over the Player Packet. The packet was really just the first few levels of the game as far as character creation, spell lists, monsters, and such. I am sure my group would have no problem cranking out low level characters to assist the playtest. The first thing I noticed was the importance of each of the six classic abilities. Each of the abilities had a list of a few common saving throws that it could be tied to. This was similar to what I had seen in at the D&D Summit and I thought that it was a brilliant idea. There was no longer a dump stat. We also had a few charts without much in the way of explanation as to what they meant. One unexplained chart was attached to Charisma. It listed a loyalty modifier and maximum henchman, which reminded me of earlier editions of D&D. I asked Mike Mearls about the chart in my EN World interview with him.
The four races included in the playtest material were the same that you will be receiving in the open playtest. The elf, dwarf, and halfling were similar to what we had come to expect over the editions. Humans on the other hand were a bit different than they had appeared in the last two editions. The extra skills and feats were gone and replaced with an expertise ability that allowed them to increase their chances of success anywhere in the game a certain amount of times a day. After some playtesting the players in my group seemed comfortable with this new way of representing humans.
The first few levels of the fighter, cleric, rogue, and wizard were included in Playtest 1.0 as well. I have five players so it would appear that one of the classes would get doubled up. There were a good chunk of themes to make each character unique regardless if they were the same class. There were also rules for multi-classing. In the Monster Packet was a half-orc template as well so one of my players asked could he take that and apply it to his fighter character. We only had four races available and it was a playtest so I figured why not.
We played for several weeks and found a few things that we thought did not work very smoothly or could perhaps be done a bit different. Not everyone in my group agreed on what needed to be changed. We are six different gamers with six different styles of gameplay after all. Everyone in my group completed the questions that completed the first playtest cycle and it felt really good to be involved in something that would matter so much to our favorite hobby.
We then received Playtest Packet 1.5 which had lots of new stuff, including revisions, and character generation material for up to 10th level. Now what we had in our hands felt a whole lot more complete and my players would be excited to make new characters. We didn’t receive any new races or classes and we didn’t care. The material included new abilities that were level based and dependent on race. This was a pleasant surprise and I personally think it is cool when race has some sort of effect on your character after 1st level. The classes also had a lot more options to pick from as they advanced and the themes provided more options when you leveled.
I was excited because my players had chosen the witch, commoner, pub crawler, minstrel, and acrobat themes. The themes appeared to be constructed with a non-combat situation in mind for each one. I knew I could take the gloves off as a DM and really see what the system could do and how my players could find the flaws.
Spells were familiar and resembled spells of earlier editions and not the slick standardized formula of 4th Edition. I knew that this would have players using spells in creative ways that they were not designed for, and I couldn’t be happier. I had missed that with 4E. Some spells could be memorized at different levels for greater effects. For example Blackstaff’s Dazing Blast can be memorized as a 1st, 3rd, 5th, or 7th level wizard’s spell. Some spells also had natural 20 effects. Blackstaff’s Dazing Blast has a natural 20 effect of more damage and the saving throw to resist it is Charisma based and then Wisdom based later in the spell’s effect. This shows what I was speaking of earlier and the lack of a dump stat in D&D Next.
Rituals were mentioned in the Playtest Packet in several locations but did not appear in any of the playtest material that I received. There were some magic items but the game seemed to play well with or without them.
Now from the DM side of things the game felt a lot like 2nd Edition with some of the wisdom that had been gained from the later editions. The DM playtest packet had a few general guidelines for running the game and some magic items. The magic items were a great addition to the material but the game functioned fine without magic items since the challenges didn’t scale in AC for no reason other than they were higher level. That should be good news to the sword and sorcery fans out there.
The Monster Packet had a good variety of monsters although nothing close to the number you would find in a Monster Manual. That was okay because rules for making your own monsters were included. Several templates (champion, enlarged, reduced, and the standard bearer. The monsters stat block were closer to versions from earlier editions than to 4th Edition except for the abilities and powers of the monsters seemed a bit more streamlined this time around. That would be a bit of the 4E philosophy that if it didn't affect the combat the DM shouldn't have to sort through it to get to the powers he needs for the combat.
The Caves of Chaos felt very familiar to me but it was something entirely new to my group. My players enjoyed the Caves of Chaos for a bit, but then we quickly set out into some homebrew adventures. This allowed me to delve deeper into the combat and encounter set-up, as well as allow me to try out more of the other two pillars, exploration and role-playing.
Now for a bit of mechanics for those of you who have stuck with this blog this far. Remember that the playtest is in flux and none of this is guaranteed to make its way into the open playtest. Clerics had an ability to heal 3 times a day in addition to taking their normal action but not more than once around. They could also stabilize a dying creature, returning them to 0 hit points so swiftly as to be able to take their normal action. Clerics had much more that they could do such as spells and turning but I point out these changes to healing because in earlier editions being a "healing machine only" was often one of the complaints of the player who was playing the cleric.
All characters had a mechanic for multiple attacks as they went up in level but fighters started receiving multi-attacks earlier than the other classes. The fighter also had the choice of receiving a bonus with all weapons or more damage or a special maneuver with a specialized weapon. I know that specialization will be changing somewhat from what Mike Mearls answered to some of the interview questions. That is okay fighters had more plusses to hit, damage output, and could soak damage, as well as a few other tricks.
Rogue was the most similar to what we have seen from earlier editions. Lots of skills, sneak attack, relying on light weapons, and Dexterity. The amount of skills that the rogue alone had access to made them feel very special, especially in the hands of the a wise player. They still needed combat advantage to really bring the damage, but as they progressed in level they received an ability to help themselves out with that.
The wizard had a few magical feats that they could do as an at-will. There was a line about being able to switch these out for other magical feats with the DM's permission. Unfortunately we are not that far in the playtest process and more magical feats were not provided. The wizard also had a lot of options to choose from as they leveled up. They could focus in different areas of magic or perhaps get a familiar. They also had spells at their disposal of course.
The option to multi-class was provided and it was not very difficult to do compared to some earlier editions. It was more beneficial than multi-classing in 4E but if you do not use the mechanic wisely then you may be spread too thin to challenge creatures of your level. That is why you play with friends. I hope you enjoy the open playtest as much as I have enjoyed the playtest experience so far. Until next time, Roll Hard!